Here’s my slides from the Community Journalism Conference at Cardiff University earlier today.
active citizens, Blogging, blogs, citizen journalism, damianradcliffe, Democratic Society, DemSoc, hyperlocal, innovation, J-Lab, Judith Townend, Knight Foundation, legal, Leveson, Media, media law, media regulation, Meeja Law, Mike Rawlins, Nanny State, NESTA, NUJ, PCC, Philip John, regulation, Will Perrin
Here’s the full text of my 2,500 word thinkpiece for The Democratic Society: – “Hey! Regulator! Leave those Hyperlocals alone!” – which featured in their recent report on Media Regulation & Democracy.
HEY! REGULATOR! LEAVE THOSE HYPERLOCALS ALONE
Hyperlocal media – news or content pertaining to a town, village, single postcode or other small, geographically defined community – is not a new sector. But a fusion of technology, social media platforms and gaps in traditional media provision, have all combined to create the perfect conditions for this sector to bloom.
As a result, hyperlocal media has grown substantially in the UK and other countries in recent years, with concerned citizens, new entrants and established media operators all taking advantage of this perfect storm to create and distribute locally relevant content. And despite very real challenges in making hyperlocal pay, we are only likely to see the sector grow, especially as smartphone technology continues to make it easier to create, distribute and consume locally relevant content.
Currently, the hyperlocal media sector is still relatively small. But as it grows, the issue of regulation is likely to rise up the policy agenda. Whether it is likely to be caught up in the slightly larger considerations of the Leveson Inquiry remains to be seen, but I believe there is a strong case for arguing against the statutory regulation of online hyperlocal media. In fact, I would go further and argue that not only should it be avoided, but that it would also be impossible to enforce.
As someone who spent just under five years working for the UK regulator, and who now works for a different regulatory body in a very different part of the world, that might seem a strange thing to say. So below I will explore five reasons why the sector should be unregulated, and why I think attempts at such regulation would ultimately prove unsuccessful.
Part One: the case against regulation
In my view there are five key areas which need to be explored when examining the case for regulation of this nascent sector. They are: the open internet philosophy; the inapplicability of historic rules of regulation; practicalities of enforcement; the role of Citizen/Community Journalism; and innovation.
Taking each of these in turn:
1. The Open Internet Philosophy
This is a subject which has been written about far more extensively than we have space to explore here. However it is, a useful – if rudimentary – starting point. If you believe in the open internet, then the web should be a predominantly unregulated space. Clearly there are exceptions, such as the need to protect the exploitation of minors, but most of these concerns are not applicable to hyperlocal websites.
Provided that the law of the land is not being broken, then hyperlocal websites should generally be left alone, free to self-manage, without recourse to a wider regulatory power.
2. The historic rules of regulation do not apply
In a broadcast world, regulation was used to create a framework for licensees. In return for abiding by the rules, which included signing up to a code of conduct and agreeing terms of trade (e.g. what type of service you are, or specific obligations such as the amount of local news you produce), then license holders got access to a precious commodity: spectrum, and with it the right to broadcast direct to people in their homes.
This two-way contract has been a key tool in making broadcast regulation work, but it is not a framework which logically transfers to the online space. Online space is virtually limitless, the challenges faced by hyperlocal practitioners – such as discoverability, scale and financial sustainability – are only recent considerations for traditional media players in a multi-channel, online, world.
Without the obvious means for a similar sort of two-way contract between the regulator and the service provider, we have to reconsider how and why we might regulation in the Internet age.
3. The (im)practicalities of enforcement
Anyone can set up a hyperlocal website or channel using tools like Facebook, WordPress or Twitter. These tools are often free, and fairly easy to use, with the result that you can set up your website in minutes. And it also means that if your website gets into trouble, you can dismantle and remove traces of it pretty quickly too. This means that not only is it impossible to comprehensively capture what hyperlocal sites exist, it will be equally impossible to monitor them effectively.
In contrast launching a newspaper, TV or radio station has often required specific licenses, equipment and training, as well as clear monitoring requirements. Broadcasters, for example, have a legal requirement to keep a record of what they have transmitted, whilst newspaper owners see their physical product in the public’s hands.
This makes it rather hard to hide any potential crimes and misdemeanors.
4. Concerned Citizens and Community Journalism
Whilst commercial hyperlocal outlets and networks do exist, the majority of hyperlocal content in the UK is produced by citizens, often for free, or certainly very small sums of money.
This in itself is no bad thing, indeed I have previously suggested that the best sites stem from local need, by people steeped in their communities. In many cases, but not always, this manifests itself in the form of active citizens investigating and reporting on what matters to them.
Looking at the US hyperlocal scene, the Federal Communications Commission in their extensive report “The Information Needs of Communities: The changing media landscape in a broadband age” noted:
“Even in the fattest-and-happiest days of traditional media, they could not regularly provide news on such a granular level. Professional media have been joined by a wide range of local blogs, email lists, websites and the proliferation of local groups on national websites like Facebook or Yahoo!
For the most part, hyperlocally oriented websites and blogs do not operate as profitable businesses, but they do not need to. This is journalism as voluntarism—a thousand points of news.” (Page 16)
This sentiment is equally applicable to the UK and any other county with a growing hyperlocal scene.
The voluntarism described by the FCC should be encouraged and nurtured, not stifled. Attempts at regulation of this sector are only likely to reduce transparency and accountability, not increase it, by discouraging citizen related activity.
Few community journalists would be able to afford any inevitable regulatory fees, and the very presence of such fees would undoubtedly deter some citizens setting up their own hyperlocal sites.
It is also likely that few concerned citizens would not even know that their Facebook Group, or blog fell under any regulatory regime. Used to using open, social, internet platforms without restriction to comment on issues of interest to them, why would their local website be regulated when posts on local food or their holidays are not?
Determining what citizen content fell in – or out – of any regulatory regime would be a very difficult call.
Lastly, there is the issue of innovation. Regulators always like to talk a lot about their role in encouraging innovation, creativity and new business models. Perhaps the extent of this is overplayed, but regulators can certainly play a role in ensuring that barriers to innovation are kept to a minimum. With the online hyperlocal sector still in its infancy there is a very real risk that innovation would be stymied by unnecessary regulation.
Part Two: the case for regulation
When I wrote the original blog article which formed the basis of this contribution, I also spent considerable time considering the reasons for regulation. Then, as now, I struggled somewhat – both in terms of the mechanisms for enforcement, as well as the potential benefits.
For the former, I considered the option of income thresholds – that sites above a certain income would need to be regulated – and in turn whether sites might opt in to be regulated by the PCC or some other body. Finally, I also wondered if there was merit in the industry coming together and devising its own system of self-regulation.
The latter provoked some discussion, and I am grateful in particular to William Perrin, Philip John, Judith Townend and Mike Rawlins for their thoughts and contributions.
Of these, I think the three strongest arguments for regulation are around protection, credibility and parity for hyperlocal publishers.
All of these are desirable outcomes, but I am yet to be convinced that they way to achieve them is through regulation or indeed self-regulation. Rather, they require attitudinal changes and shifts more than anything else from big media, the NUJ and in some cases media consumers.
Again, taking each of these areas in turn:
1. Legal standing and support
Potentially the biggest benefit of regulation for the sector is that it may make it easier to unlock union and legal support. At present most hyperlocal writers are unrecognised by the NUJ and – in contrast to their traditional media peers – they do not enjoy the backing of a large legal department.
Legal support is an area the hyperlocal sector would benefit from. The day will come when a hyperlocal practitioner loses their home due to a legal dispute stemming from content on their site. Sadly, it may take such an incident for this issue to be given the consideration it deserves.
We need to find a means to redress this, as the level of legal support for the citizen journalist/reporter is often minimal, if indeed there is any at all.
To counteract this, in the US, J-Lab and the Knight Foundation ran a Legal Risk Blog for American citizen journalists, bloggers and social network users. Different media laws mean that its usefulness as a tool for UK practitioners is limited, although the site is not without value.
One way this could work in the UK would be to encourage big media groups – perhaps through a regulatory lever – to provide a certain amount of pro-bono legal support to hyperlocal outlets.
Alternatively they may have to pay a small levy to a central legal fund, which could either ensure 24/7 legal support for hyperlocal practitioners, or support a financial pool to draw on when the litigation starts. Such an idea is not without risk of abuse, but if we are to encourage better relationships between community media outlets players and traditional media, providing meaningful support between the sectors in this way would be one way of doing it.
Rightly or wrongly, there can be misconceptions amongst consumers and traditional media alike about the content and accuracy of hyperlocal content. Being part of a regulatory regime may help to change that, but I am skeptical. Many regulated bodies – across media, finance and other industries – are severely lacking in credibility at present. As are their regulators.
Moreover, Ofcom research shows that many media consumers are already confused and ill-informed about regulation and funding. So being part of a regulatory regime will not necessarily change public perceptions. Or indeed those held by old media.
More effective measures could simply be cosmetic. Lichfield Blog for example renamed itself Lichfield Live, because it became “hard to escape the fact that having ‘blog’ in our name was causing problems
with how we were perceived”.
Some of the Lichfield team have also posited the idea of self-regulation, with hyperlocal players signing up to an agreed “Code of Conduct”, in part to boost credibility. I can see the merit of such a code, and such an approach could be especially useful for new sites in giving them best practice and a set of standards to aspire to, but I am not sure that it will make much of a difference in the credibility stakes.
That does not mean however that hyperlocals should not do it, and there would be a merit to having agreed and shared text on issues such as fairness and complaint handling, but the benefits of this approach are, in my view, of more benefit for practitioners, than big media partners and audiences.
Instead, I would argue that activities such as public visibility – reporting from, or organizing local events – or making your content available offline as well as online, may be much more effective at boosting credibility and changing perceptions than being part of any new regulatory body.
3. Creating a level playing field
The underlying consideration here is how to establish a more level playing field, particularly in terms of legal protection and credibility. For some commentators, the only way to do this is by bringing hyperlocal media into any post-Leveson regulatory regime.
That may be so, but I think this argument is fallacious and that these objectives can be achieved through other non-regulatory means. Examples of credible, respected hyperlocal websites abound (see: http://kingscrossenvironment.com/ , http://parwich.org/ , http://pitsnpots.co.uk/ , http://www.london-se1.co.uk and http://ventnorblog.com/ as just some examples). As, increasingly, do examples of creative partnerships between this sector and traditional media.
Regulation also risks having accidental consequences, from stifling innovation and driving small scale hyperlocal practitioners out of business, through to creating a two tier hyperlocal sector, with some outlets being regulated (perhaps due to their size, scale and or platform) whilst others are not (e.g. those on Facebook).
Far from creating a level playing field therefore, such a scenario risks widening gaps, not reducing them.
I argued earlier that a number of factors – the open internet philosophy; the inapplicability of historic rules of regulation; practicalities of enforcement; the role of Citizen/Community Journalism; and innovation – were all good reasons, both individually and collectively, against statutory regulation.
Similarly, I remain unconvinced at the viability of self-regulation, or that it is the means to deliver outcomes such as enhanced protection or credibility.
In my experience most hyperlocal outlets take questions of balance and accuracy very seriously and where they have an editorial agenda it is usually pretty clear.
Just because you are unregulated, does not mean that your standards are any lower. Nor will being regulated suddenly mean that the public will view you content differently, that relationships with traditional media will transform overnight, or that late night telephone calls from aggrieved Press Officers will cease.
Instead, we need to recognize that hyperlocal publishers are an increasingly important part of our media ecosystem. They can, and do, on occasion provide great content for other media outlets – acting as a local wire service. Hyperlocal outlets can also be a great way for traditional media to find new voices and talent, whilst for audiences they can help plug gaps in content provision – or provide a new level of ultralocal reporting.
Nurturing and supporting the industry should be the aim of policy makers. And it does not need regulation to make this happen. Key challenges such as finding ways to develop partnerships, or unlocking legal training and support for hyperlocal publishers, can all happen without the need for regulatory intervention or frameworks.
Let’s see if we can make it happen.
Last week it was announced that I had been appointed as a Honorary Research Fellow at Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies.
I am very excited about this. I know I will learn lots from the rest of the research team and it also gives me the opportunity to contribute to the Cardiff-led AHRC research project on Media, Community and the Creative Citizen - the first major UK academic study in this space.
The role will provide an outlet for my continuing research into hyperlocal media, which started with 2009′s report by Ofcom on Regional and Local Media in the UK and which has continued through a range of outlets including my landscape review for NESTA (Here and Now: hyper-local in the UK) and recent articles for Journalism.co.uk (Why hyperlocals should not rule out print) and the BBC College of Journalism (Walking the local TV tightrope).
Sadly, having moved roles (and country) I can no longer provide the sort of regular sector updates that I used to, but I am hoping this role with Cardiff means that my more limited time has a clear focus and an opportunity to add value.
I also think the kind of research I used to produce isn’t quite needed like it once was. This year alone we have already seen the launch of the AHRC research project and a new centre for community journalism, the BBC’s Connecting Communities Conference - #bbcscc12 - and NESTA‘s Destination Local programme. The small hyperlocal fire I wanted to help keep stoked after Ofcom’s 2009 local media report is now burning very brightly (and I don’t for one minute take credit for any of it!).
Aside from contributing to the research project on Media, Community and the Creative Citizen, you will also find me doing other little bits and pieces in this space – from a new series of interviews with practitioners (“Hyperlocal Voices“) on the Online Journalism Blog through to sharing nuggets of intel via Scoop.it!, Delicious and Twitter. I will develop these new outlets more in due course, so if add these sites to your Reader do consider them very much a work in progress.
Copy of text from Cardiff University website. Monday, June 25, 2012
Damian Radcliffe, Internet and Society Manager at ictQATAR, has been appointed as a Honorary Research Fellow at Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies.
Damian will provide input to the Cardiff-led AHRC research project on Media, Community and the Creative Citizen, which is due for completion in October 2014.
Damian is a leading expert in the field of online news media and widely acknowledged for his influential work in the area of hyperlocal journalism. Prior to his move to Qatar earlier this year, Damian was Manager for Nations and Regions at Ofcom, the UK communications regulator.
He is a much followed blogger and the author of a recent assessment of the scale and scope of UK hyperlocal services for “Destination Local”, an initiative led by the innovation agency NESTA. He has collaborated with numerous universities and with the BBC College of Journalism and the Online Journalism Blog.
Damian Radcliffe said: “I look forward to learning and being challenged by fellow researchers and post-graduate students alike, while also sharing insights with the School about the fast changing developments taking place in the Middle East.
“As with hyperlocal and community journalism there is a rich story to tell, and I am grateful to the University for giving me a chance to help tell it.”
Ian Hargreaves, Professor of Digital Economy and Principal Investigator for the AHRC research project said: “Damian will bring a fresh and well-informed international perspective to our growing interest in community news media and I am delighted that he is able to form this association with us.”
In the rush to digital it is easy to overlook the role traditional channels can play, both in terms of reaching audiences who are not online, as well as attracting revenue from different sources – some of whom may only advertise via print.
Community print media in the form of newspapers, newsletters and pamphlets has a long lineage in the UK. But it is not just habit or tradition that explains its longevity. Because no technology is required to access it, print products mean that those who are not online need not necessarily miss out.
While the UK is a world leader in online take-up, at least 18 per cent are still non-users, and that figure is higher in some areas and among some groups. This is a sizeable audience and also one –heavily skewed towards the over 55s – which remains a heavy consumer of local media. This consumption, however, tends to be focused around regional TV news, BBC local radio and local newspapers.
As Enders Analysis noted in written evidence submitted to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on the future for local and regional media: “One third of the readership base [of regional and local press] is over 55 and half is mid to low income, both being demographics that face significant challenges in connecting to the internet, whether in terms of skills, or the income to buy a PC and train to use it.”
While the UK is a world leader in online take-up, at least 18 per cent are still non-users, and that figure is higher in some areas and among some groupsDamian Radcliffe
Lack of online access and skills are therefore key reasons why some established hyperlocal operators continue to focus on print, with the result that they often have little or no web presence.
The Leys News in south-east Oxford, for example, typically only posts one new story a month on its website. In contrast, its free monthly newspaper has 16 pages of stories, photos and local advertising. The paper, which is delivered directly to 5,000 homes, is the most important source of information for local residents, beating the more established Oxford Mail, which is daily, into second place.
Over in the West Midlands the ECHO Community Newspaper, which has been running since April 1979, continues to have a very healthy print life and an equally limited website. Produced 11 times a year, and aimed at residents in the Earlsdon, Chapelfields, Hearsall and Spon End districts of Coventry, it is sold for just 30p through 20 different sales outlets. None of these outlets take a commission.
The longevity of these examples suggests they know how to reach their audiences and they deploy content and distribution models which are right for them. In these instances, this is not online.
In more socio-economically diverse areas, different models may be more appropriate. The Hackney Citizen is a good example of this, as is the new print edition of Stoke’s Pits n Pots. Both have strong web audiences, but also large pockets of potential consumers who are not online.
A print-web mix therefore offers the chance to reach a wider audience and make a greater community impact. For Pits n Pots their recent print issue did more than take their content to non-web readers, it also raised awareness of their website so much that their web traffic doubled.
Different models also enable hyperlocal practitioners to enjoy different relationships with advertisers, as well as audiences. In the US, Kansas-based Lawrence.com found that no-one would advertise on “just a website”, so they started printing a free “Deadwood Edition” until they felt their advertisers – rather than their readers –could make the switch to online only. The print product “died along with much of the world economy in 2009 after 246 issues“.
Closer to home, HU17.net, which covers Beverley in East Yorkshire, began a weekly print version in late 2010. The spin-off paper has recently expanded to include a property section; reaching some advertisers who might never advertise on the website, but who feel the print version is more appropriate for them.
These advertising and audience considerations are also drivers in the reverse publishing trend, where journalistic copy and user-generated content are combined to produce more localised print products.
Across the pond one of the largest reverse publishing examples is TribLocal fromthe Chicago Tribune. The initiative supports 90 town websites and 22 print editions, which are published every Thursday and delivered to 335,000 Chicago Tribune subscribers. An additional 800,000 copies are distributed to non-subscribers on a Saturday. Not only are newspapers delivered door-to-door, but importantly they can also be found in community locations such as the town library, as well as being available online as PDFs.
What these examples seem to suggest is that print remains valuable, both as a primary tool for news consumption and as a means to highlight the best online content.
While services such as Newspaper Club and Sweeble are now making it easier for online content to be converted into a more traditional print product, partnerships with print players may offer the way forward for some hyperlocals. In particular they can generate revenue, reach and credibility by association.
Archant’s recent partnership with EverythingEppingForest.co.ukis therefore one to watch, while a 2010 collaboration on homelessness by the Seattle Times and seven hyperlocals demonstrated the benefits of both a print/web mix, as well as the partnership work that underpinned it.
Print, it would seem, is not dead yet.
Damian Radcliffe(@mrdamian76) is the author of “Here and Now – UK hyperlocal media today“, the UK’s first review of this emerging sector. He has spent much of the past 20 years working in local media, in a mix of content and policy roles.
A former BBC staffer, he has also worked for Ofcom and led a Sony Award winning partnership between BBC English Regions and the charity CSV (Community Service Volunteers). His research and writing on hyperlocal media can be found on his personal website and on SlideShare.
Last week’s Journalism.co.uk podcast explored the role of print in the hyperlocal space and its contribution to developing sustainable business models and reaching audiences.
active citizens, Blogging, blogs, citizen journalism, credibility, Democracy Society, DemSoc, hyperlocal, innovation, Media, media regulation, Nanny State, NESTA, open internet, regulation, technology, Technology Strategy Board, TSB
This is a cross-post of an article published earlier today on the website of The Democratic Society as part of a series on media regulation and new democracy. It is designed to prove thought and discussion ahead of a roundtable at the RSA in London. Find out more about the event here.
Damian Radcliffe is the author of “Here and Now – UK hyperlocal media today“. In this post he argues that at a time when media and digital regulation is under review, hyperlocal media should be left alone. This is a contribution to our media regulation discussion event on Wednesday afternoon.
The recent announcement of GDP 1m in funding for new hyperlocal ventures is a welcome shot in the arm for this nascent media industry. The UK is full of great examples of hyperlocal activity. However issues of trust, scalability and sustainability are all key challenges for large parts of the sector as it moves forward.
The NESTA and TSB funding may offer some solutions to these challenges, but as the sector grows, so issues of regulation may start to loom slightly larger on the policy agenda. In my view, where possible, regulation of online hyperlocal media should be avoided. That might seem a strange thing for a former regulator to say, so let offer five reasons why the sector should be unregulated, and why I think attempts at regulation would ultimately prove unsuccessful.
1. Online Philosophy
My starting point is a simple one. If you are a believer in the open internet, then the web should be a predominantly unregulated space. Clearly there are exceptions, such as the need to protect the exploitation of minors, but most of these concerns are not applicable to hyperlocal websites. Provided that the law of the land is not being broken, then websites should generally be left alone.
2. The historic rules of regulation do not apply
In a broadcast world, regulation was used to create a framework for licensees. In return for abiding by the rules, which included signing up to a code of conduct and agreeing terms of trade (e.g. what type of service you are, or specific obligations such as the amount of local news you produce), then license holders got access to a precious commodity: spectrum, and with it the right to broadcast direct to people in their homes. This two way contract has been a key tool in making broadcast regulation work, but it is not a framework which logically transfers to the online space.
Anyone can set up a hyperlocal website or channel using tools like Facebook, WordPress or Twitter. These tools are often free, and fairly easy to use, with the result that you can set up your website in minutes. And it also means that if your website gets into trouble, you can dismantle and remove traces of it pretty quickly too. The net result of this is that not only is it impossible to comprehensively capture what hyperlocal sites exist, it will be equally impossible to monitor them effectively.
In contrast, launching a newspaper, TV or Radio Station which has often required specific licenses, equipment and training, as well as clear monitoring requirements. Broadcasters, for example, have a legal requirement to keep a record of what they have transmitted, whilst newspaper owners see their physical product in the public’s hands, making it rather hard to hide any potential crimes and misdemeanors.
Whilst commercial hyperlocal outlets and networks do exist, the majority of hyperlocal content in the UK is produced by citizens, often for free, or certainly very small sums of money. This in itself is no bad thing, indeed I have previously suggested that the best sites stem from local need, by people steeped in their communities. In many cases, but not always, this means active citizens investigating and reporting on what matters to them.
Most citizen practitioners would be unable to afford any inevitable regulatory fees, and the very presence of such fees would deter some citizens setting up their own sites. More likely most concerned citizens would not even know that their Facebook Group, or a Blogger site fell under a regulatory regime, until the point when they fell foul of the law and received a demand letter from the regulator. This is probably a situation best avoided – certainly Mrs Miggins being told she has to take down her site reviewing local pies, or else face a $1,000 fine – will simply be spun by the press as the Nanny State gone mad. I do not think anyone wants to see that happen.
Lastly, there is the issue of innovation. Regulators the world over like to talk a lot about their role in encouraging innovation, creativity and new business models. Perhaps the extent of this is overplayed, but regulators can certainly play a role in ensuring that barriers to innovation are kept to a minimum. With the online hyperlocal sector still in its infancy there is a very real risk that innovation would be stymied by unnecessary regulation.
In looking at these five reasons, you could argue that each point may be sufficient to argue against regulation. Certainly when collectively put together they suggest that regulation of hyperlocal media is as impractical as it is unwelcome.
In the interests of balance, I also tried to identify five reasons *for* regulation, and I confess that I struggled.
I considered the option of income thresholds – that sites above a certain income would need to be regulated – whether sites might opt in to be regulated by the PCC or some other body, or indeed if the industry should come together and devise its own system of self-regulation.
But the only benefits that I could see from such approaches were that becoming regulated might boost the credibility of the sector in some circles, and that it might also make it easier to unlock union and legal support. These are important considerations, but ultimately I am not sure that regulation is the way to achieve these outcomes. Rather, they require changes in mindset from big media, the NUJ and in some cases consumers.
In my experience most hyperlocal outlets take questions of balance and accuracy very seriously and where they do have an editorial agenda it is usually pretty clear. I am therefore not quite sure what regulation would achieve, so suggest that for now, we should leave the “responsible punks” of the quasi-underground hyperlocal movement to manage themselves.
Last week I spoke, via Skype, with Sarah Marshall the technology correspondent of Journalism.co.uk about hyperlocal media and the potential for print. This played a very small part of a wider podcast exploring this issue. You see more information about the 15 minute podcast (and listen to it) here.
Sarah secured some great contributions from a number of practitioners in this space, namely:
Their weekly podcasts can be found via iTunes here and are well worth signing up to.
The idea of “hyperlocal” media seems stuck. Traditional media can’t make money from it and the bloggers just don’t stick at it. To move the debate along, Nesta have just launched a report surveying the landscape and a fund of up to £500,000 for new ideas in this area. The future, they conclude, “will be messy”.
Some of those elements are present in hyperlocal media today. Can this media model be made to work financially? I’m honestly not sure. Many hyperlocal blogs and sites are people scratching their own itches, with little structure behind them, and depending on the energy of a few founders.
It’s good to see NESTA and Carnegie put money into new models that might work in this area, I hope they succeed.
The paper is very readable and strong on two particular themes: the relations between traditional local media and hyperlocal; and the (uncertain) potential for sustainable business models to strengthen the sector. The international coverage is also a very distinctive contribution, giving perspective to the development of hyperlocal in the UK.
Where we’d welcome more focus in the future is on demonstrating an appreciation of the significance of voluntary effort in establishing and managing local online resources; and the way that effort fits into the shifting culture of civic and community involvement. Of course, that’s a complex and fuzzy area, under-researched and under-theorised, but hugely important in the next couple of years at least.
If you spot any other comments, feedback and insights, do let me know.
archives, BBC, BBC Local Radio, British Library, check in, Clear Channel, Community Radio, daily deals, examiner.com, Facebook, gowalla, hyper-local, hyperlocal, Hyperlocal Advertising, iptv, journalism, Journalism Foundation, JWire, LBS, local advertising, local newspapers, Local TV, location, location based services, networked neighbourhoods, Patch, Pew Research Cen, PitnPots, ultra-local, ultralocal
In this guest post, Damian Radcliffe highlights some recent developments in the intersection between hyper-local SoLoMo (social, location, mobile). His more detailed slides looking at 20 developments across the sector during the last two months of 2011 are cross-posted at the bottom of this article.
Facebook’s recent purchase of location-based service Gowalla (Slide 19 below,) suggests that the social network still thinks there is a future for this type of “check in” service. Touted as “the next big thing” ever since Foursquare launched at SXSW in 2009, to date Location Based Services (LBS) haven’t quite lived up to the hype.
Certainly there’s plenty of data to suggest that the public don’t quite share the enthusiasm of many Silicon Valley investors. Yet.
Part of their challenge is that not only is awareness of services relatively low – just 30% of respondents in a survey of 37,000 people by Forrester (Slide 27) – but their benefits are also not necessarily clearly understood.
In 2011, a study by youth marketing agency Dubit found about half of UK teenagers are not aware of location-based social networking services such as Foursquare and Facebook Places, with 58% of those who had heard of them saying they “do not see the point” of sharing geographic information.
Safety concerns may not be the primary concern of Dubit’s respondents, but as the “Please Rob Me” website says: “….on one end we’re leaving lights on when we’re going on a holiday, and on the other we’re telling everybody on the internet we’re not home… The danger is publicly telling people where you are. This is because it leaves one place you’re definitely not… home.”
Reinforcing this concern are several stories from both the UK and the US of insurers refusing to pay out after a domestic burglary, where victims have announced via social networks that they were away on holiday – or having a beer downtown.
For LBS to go truly mass market – and Forrester (see Slide 27) found that only 5% of mobile users were monthly LBS users – smartphone growth will be a key part of the puzzle. Recent Ofcom data reported that:
For now at least, most of our location based activity would seem to be based on previous online behaviours. So, search continues to dominate.
Google in a recent blog post described local search ads as “so hot right now” (Slide 22, Sept-Oct 2011 update). The search giant launched hyper-local search ads a year ago, along with a “News Near You” feature in May 2011. (See: April-May 2011 update, Slide 27.)
Meanwhile, BIA/Kelsey forecast that local search advertising revenues in the US will increase from $5.1 billion in 2010 to $8.2 billion in 2015. Their figures suggest by 2015, 30% of search will be local.
The other notable growth area, location based mobile advertising, also offers a different slant on the typical “check in” service which Gowalla et al tend to specialise in. Borrell forerecasts this space will increase 66% in the US during 2012 (Slide 22).
The most high profile example of this service in the UK is O2 More, which triggers advertising or deals when a user passes through certain locations – offering a clear financial incentive for sharing your location.
Jiepang, China’s leading Location-Based Social Mobile App, offered a recent example of how to do this. Late last year they partnered with Starbucks, offering users a virtual Starbucks badge if they “checked-in” at a Starbucks store in the Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces. When the number of badges issued hit 20,000, all badge holders got a free festive upgrade to a larger cup size. When coupled with the ease of NFC technology deployed to allow users to “check in” then it’s easy to understand the consumer benefit of such a service.
Mine’s a venti gingerbread latte. No cream. Xièxiè.
BBC, BBC Local Radio, community, Community Radio, daily deals, DQF, Enders, Funding, Guardian, Guardian Local, hyper local, hyperlocal, jeremy hunt, Leveson, Local 2.0, Local Government, Local Government 2.0, local newspapers, Local Radio, Local TV, Localpeople, n0tice, newspapers, Open Data, Radio, riots, The Detail, Twicket, ultra-local, ultralocal
Originally published here (with slides and lots of helpful user comments).
In this guest post, Damian Radcliffe highlights some topline developments in the hyper-local space during 2011. He also asks for your suggestions of great hyper-local content from 2011. His more detailed slides looking at the previous year are cross-posted at the bottom of this article.
2011 was a busy year across the hyper-local sphere, with a flurry of activity online as well as more traditional platforms such as TV, Radio and newspapers.
The Government’s plans for Local TV have been considerably developed, following the Shott Review just over a year ago. We now have a clearer indication of the areas which will be first on the list for these new services and how Ofcom might award these licences. What we don’t know is who will apply for these licences, or what their business models will be. But, this should become clear in the second half of the year.
Whilst the Leveson Inquiry hasn’t directly been looking at local media, it has been a part of the debate. Claire Enders outlined some of the challenges facing the regional and local press in a presentation showing declining revenue, jobs and advertising over the past five years. Her research suggests that the impact of “the move to digital” has been greater at a local level than at the nationals.
And on the content front, we saw Jeremy Hunt cite a number of hyper-local examples at the Oxford Media Convention, as well as record coverage for regional press and many hyper-local outlets as a result of the summer riots.
I’ve included more on all of these stories in my personal retrospective for the past year.
One area where I’d really welcome feedback is examples of hyper-local content you produced – or read – in 2011. I’m conscious that a lot of great material may not necessarily reach a wider audience, so do post your suggestions below and hopefully we can begin to redress that.